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High-action art

Profile image for By Lucinda Breeding
By Lucinda Breeding

Artist John Bramblitt can tell which athlete from Main Street Mafia is zooming around the flat track.

“Like with Red Dead Roulette, I can tell when she’s popped up onto her toe stop,” Bramblitt said. “She does this thing where she pops up on the toe stop and kind of bounces up and down.”

Bramblitt, who is blind, used his many memories of Denton’s roller derby scene to produce the big painting he made for the team’s fundraiser Saturday night at Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios. Bramblitt’s wife, Jacqui, is a jammer for the Mafia. (A jammer is the sole offensive player on a roller derby team. The jammer’s job is to pass as many members of the opposing team’s skaters as possible. The rest of the skaters — blockers — do as much as they can to keep the jammer from passing them and their teammates.)

Main Street Mafia members asked Bramblitt to paint something. He said he drew on his memories of the many games he’s attended. But he also needed some help from the athletes.

“I had a sitting with all the athletes who are in the painting,” he said. “There are four. I’ve been to a lot of games, but I didn’t have a clear idea of the positions they could get into. I had them take the positions they might get into and then I had to feel where their skates are, and their legs. It was pretty hard for them.”

Bramblitt said the painting is his first painting with action in it.

“I’ve maybe done a rodeo figure, with maybe a bucking bronco or something like that in it,” he said. “But this is the first time I’ve found myself having to paint live action, maybe someone is hitting someone else, and being blind, you don’t know where every finger is, or where they’re holding their chin.”

The painting is 4 feet wide and 2 feet tall. It catches four athletes propelling themselves around the track. The leading skater has kicked off with one skate, and is punching one fist in front of her to gain momentum. A cluster of three skaters is in pursuit. One crouches low, with an arm pushed behind her back. Another skater, a tattoo sleeve burning bright from her right shoulder, looks back while the trailing athlete draws up in a kinetic pose.

Bramblitt lost his sight in 2001, and he began painting afterward. He uses quick-drying paint to draw the subjects and create the composition for his art. Using the raised, dried paint outline, Bramblitt said he paints using color to express energy, emotion and movement.

“It’s funny, whenever I was sighted, I saw color then, obviously, but I think it means more to me now,” he said. “I use it to communicate emotion and energy and action. In the background of the painting, there is a huge crowd. I used a lot of color in their faces, and a lot of white, too.

“My paintings are colorful, and in this painting, I used the color to show the intensity. There is so much energy coming from the players. Even as someone sitting out by the rink, you can hear all the emotions.”

Valerie Adair, a blocker for Main Street Mafia who skates under the moniker Jayne Snobb, said the teams in the North Texas Derby Revolution league are allowed one fundraiser a year and one sponsor a year. But the league and its teams aren’t flush with cash.

“Our whole league is volunteer-run,” she said. “The girls in the league do a lot of volunteering. There’s a guys league and they put in as much work as the women do.”

Derby isn’t cheap.

“We have an entire building that is only for roller derby,” Adair said, referring to the indoor flat track facility called House of Quad.

The skaters pay team and league dues, and those on the traveling team kick in to help defray the costs of travel.

Adair said the athletes pay a lot for their gear — their skates, which come in pieces from boot to ball bearings, wrist guards, kneepads, mouth guards and helmets.

Derby is a contact sport, Adair said, and the gear bears the brunt by design. Skaters have to reach into their pockets to stay suited up. Then there’s training. The athletes are coached by volunteers and they pool money to give appreciation gifts. They try to do the same with the referees.

“The refs are volunteers, and they take a lot of abuse. They tell you cut the track and they get yelled at. You’re like ‘What are you talking about? I didn’t cut the track!’ That kind of thing. We try to give them gifts, too,” Adair said.

The fundraiser on Saturday will help the league cover the costs of suiting up the athletes they drafted back in February.

Bramblitt said raffle tickets for the painting have been bought by people as far away as New York, New Mexico, South Carolina and California.

“I kind of hope it stays here,” Bramblitt said. “After all, the league and the teams are here.”

LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877.